Google has been making SEO more difficult for years, and perhaps that's why a new study from SEMPO, the world's largets search marketing-specific nonprofit trade organization, has found that SEO spending is still healthy, despite all of the freely available online information that has spread across the web over the past decade or so.
Are you spending more or less on SEO than you were a year ago? Let us know in the comments.
"Overall, the report depicts a stable industry, without dramatic changes," says SEMPO. "Although the practices of search engine and digital marketing may have changed significantly as new tools, algorithms and platforms have come into play, the survey depicts very much the same goals in place."
Survey respondents have increased their SEO budgets, and only 2% of them indicated that they spent nothing on SEO at all.
The amount of agency billing for SEO services is on the rise. "A significant drop in those
spending less than $100k corresponds to higher number across the board, with the greatest increase
in the $1 to $5 million range," SEMPO says.
The survey found that, while it remains a key goal for SEO, SEMPO says, "Survey responses show a drop in the blunt objective of driving traffic." Meanwhile, the number of agencies citing brand/reputation as a goal, doubled year-over-year.
On the paid side of things, agencies evaluating their clients' goals for paid search noted a significant rise in seeing brand/reputation as their top objective, SEMPO notes.
One thing is clear: the search marketing industry is only increasing in value, despite the rise of social media, and Google algorithm updates forcing sites to become less dependent on Google:
"Changes to the Google algorithm affected a large percentage of marketers, or at least has them concerned," SEMPO notes in the report. "87% call the updates of the last 12-18 months 'significant or highly significant.' In most cases marketers feel the overall effect to be positive, but success in combating SEO spam sites has come at the expense of many legitimate brands."
If those Google updates are keeping you up at night, you may want to revisit what Google itself says about SEO, particularly when looking to hire someone.
"Deciding to hire an SEO is a big decision that can potentially improve your site and save time, but you can also risk damage to your site and reputation," Google says. "Make sure to research the potential advantages as well as the damage that an irresponsible SEO can do to your site."
Google adds that, "Many SEOs and other agencies and consultants provide useful services for website owners," such as:
- Review of your site content or structure
- Content development
- Management of online business development campaigns
- Keyword research
- SEO training
- Expertise in specific markets and geographies.
"Before beginning your search for an SEO, it's a great idea to become an educated consumer and get familiar with how search engines work," Google says, suggesting its Webmaster Guidelines and Google 101: How Google crawls, indexes and serves the web as starting points.
Google also suggests hiring an SEO early in the site development process, like when you're planning a redesign or planning to launch a new site altogether (many no doubt are, thanks to Panda and Penguin). In case you're not familiar with it, Google has a list of questions that it says you should ask an SEO during the hiring process:
- Can you show me examples of your previous work and share some success stories?
- Do you follow the Google Webmaster Guidelines?
- Do you offer any online marketing services or advice to complement your organic search business?
- What kind of results do you expect to see, and in what timeframe? How do you measure your success?
- What's your experience in my industry?
- What's your experience in my country/city?
- What's your experience developing international sites?
- What are your most important SEO techniques?
- How long have you been in business?
- How can I expect to communicate with you? Will you share with me all the changes you make to my site, and provide detailed information about your recommendations and the reasoning behind them?
"While SEOs can provide clients with valuable services, some unethical SEOs have given the industry a black eye through their overly aggressive marketing efforts and their attempts to manipulate search engine results in unfair ways," Google says.
The company advises site owners to "be wary" of SEO firms and consultants or agencies that send you an email out of the blue, noting that even Google gets these emails. Google also reminds you that nobody can can guarantee you a #1 ranking. Google says to be careful if a company is secretive or won't clearly explain what they intend to do, and makes it clear that, "You should never have to link to an SEO."
And just in case you needed another list of things to steer clear of, Google says to "feel free to walk away" of the SEO:
- owns shadow domains
- puts links to their other clients on doorway pages
- offers to sell keywords in the address bar
- doesn't distinguish between actual search results and ads that appear on search results pages
- guarantees ranking, but only on obscure, long keyword phrases you would get anyway
- operates with multiple aliases or falsified WHOIS info
- gets traffic from "fake" search engines, spyware, or scumware
- has had domains removed from Google's index or is not itself listed in Google
Despite all of this advice, Google is making it harder and harder to get on the first page of results for reasons even beyond the algorithm updates. Google is showing less organic results for an increasing number of queries, and showing more direct answers whenever it can provide them.
Is increasing the SEO budget the right response? Let us know what you think.